The 2013-2016 IAAF Strategic Plan has six Core Values: universality, leadership, unity, excellence, integrity and solidarity, and a Vision Statement: “To lead, govern and develop the sport of athletics in all its forms worldwide, uniting the Athletics Family in a spirit of excellence, integrity and solidarity.”
Braian Toledo is an unusual talent. A great gem of South American and Argentinean athletics that has emerged from Marcos Paz - a very humble suburb of Buenos Aires - to explode in 2010 by producing two World Youth bests in the Javelin Throw and a victory at the Youth Olympic Games. Born on 8 September 1993, this is the fantastic story of Toledo.
“I met Braian when he was nine,” explains his coach, Gustavo Osorio (San Miguel de Tucumán, 29 November 1970). “I went to give a PE class at the School 15 in Marcos Paz; it was a typical PE class. I remember I made two groups, one with boys and one with girls. Those children who made the exercises in good form would be moved to the front of the line, as a reward. And that’s when I first noticed him. He did well in some of the exercises, but not in all of them. He didn’t show a great talent then, but yet some ability. So, for the next step I invited some of those children to the athletics group I have, and that’s where I started to work with him.”
From modest beginnings
Toledo lives and grew up in Marcos Paz, at “Barrio Martín Fierro”, a modest neighbourhood, constituted mostly by small houses and dirt roads. Braian’s house is a small one bedroom, where his family shares the little space they have. Marcos Paz is a city of working class people located 48km west of the Argentine capital.
“My neighbourhood is a peaceful and quiet one. It means a lot to me, and today I feel a great deal of support from everyone here,” says Toledo, who grew up with his mother and two younger brothers, after his father left when Braian was 9 months old.
Marcos Paz has a track, but not a conventional one. It was built at a field crossed by railroad tracks. “We built the oval in 2000, after we cleaned up the field. It’s not a competition track, because it doesn’t meet the basic requirements. It’s actually far from meeting them, but it’s ours, and has served us very well,” says Osorio.
“Some people can’t believe that we mostly train here,” Toledo adds. “While at a training camp in Formia, Italy, we showed some photos and videos of our training ground to Yelena Isinbayeva. She couldn’t believe how we can do our training here.”
“In my childhood I played football between the years of six and twelve,” continues Toledo. “At twelve I started in athletics. The Javelin caught my eye, and I asked the coach if I could start throwing. Once I started, the coach told me that I couldn’t do football and athletics. That’s when I decided to continue with athletics. I guess because it was something different; something that really interested me.”
Toledo’s confession is an unusual one, as football is one of the best hopes for salvation in South America to those families of humble backgrounds.
Toledo’s competitive beginnings were at the “Torneos Juveniles Bonaerenses”, and the “Torneos Nacionales Evita”, in 2007. By then, Gustavo Osorio had established himself as respected coach, after the good results obtained by 18-year-old Mariela Aguer (50.10m at Javelin in 2004), and by 14-year-old Walter Cerrezuela (53.53m with the 1kg Discus and 53.65 with the 600g Javelin, both in 2004).
“His growth has been fantastic,” Osorio explains. “Not just from the athletics point of view, but mostly as a person. To be able to overcome daily difficulties has enabled us to reach certain goals. Now, we want to continue the evolution, without any rush, but knowing that our goal is to be among the world’s best Javelin throwers.”
As one token of how close Toledo and Osorio are, and how difficult their journey has been, stands out the anecdote of Toledo’s first national record, at the U-16 category (La Plata, 24 May 2008).
“Osorio had a motorcycle then,” Toledo begins. “We begun that day at six in the morning, driving to the Institute of Physical Education, where he was finishing his masters. I waited for him while he was in class. When he finished we drove to La Plata, some 60 kilometres south. We got there without much time to spare, and tired from the whole journey. I warmed up, and threw 57.64m that afternoon. Something amazing, considering the circumstances of the day and the fact that I hadn’t had a proper meal in the whole day. We celebrated the record with a “café con leche” and a bite to eat at a petrol station. Then we headed back to Marcos Paz. Needles is to say that that was a memorable day.”
In Bressanone, ‘a moment that changed my life’
However, the turning point of Toledo’s Athletics career came in Italy, in Bressanone, Südtirol, on 12 July 2009, at the sith IAAF World Youth Championships. Toledo had reached the final the day before with the fourth best effort of the qualification round: 71.71m, a PB by 3.10m. After the third round of the final, Toledo was only seventh with his 70.49m mark from round one. In round four, he fouled, and in round fifth he produced the effort that landed him in the third place of podium: 73.74m.
“That moment changed my life,” Toledo says. “I remember my coach’s words before that fifth attempt: ‘one throw may change your life’. And that’s just what happened. Little by little I was able to fully understand his sentence.”
A few weeks after Bressanone, Toledo ratified his quality by obtaining the silver medal at the South American Junior Championships in São Paulo (69.63m on 26 July), and a victory at the Pan-American Junior Championships in Port-of-Spain (69.84m on 31 July), in both cases competing with the 800g Javelin. The year ended with another massive improvement, to 79.25m, with the 700g Javelin (Córdoba, 17 October) at the National Youth Championships.
Onwards to 2010 and Youth Olympic title
2010 started with simple objectives. “I wanted to train well, and to fulfil the goals of each part of our plan. But the main focus was set on continuing my evolution, and to do well at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore.”
In preparation for Singapore, Toledo competed in the summer of the southern hemisphere with very good results. At the track of the Cenard (The National High Performance Training Centre), in Buenos Aires, Braian improved the World Youth Best to 84.85m on 13 February (83.02 was the previous WYB of Valeriy Iordan, from 2009). And three weeks later he pushed the WYB to 89.34m in Mar del Plata (6 March).
“Those records have been important, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. My main goals were to train well and to throw well. That idea is symbolized by something that the President of the Argentinean Confederation, Professor Juan Scarpin, told me at the 2010 National Youth Championships. He said something like ‘worry about throwing well, not about throwing far’, and that philosophy has worked very well for me.”
The most important event of 2010 for Toledo was the inaugural edition of the Youth Olympic Games. After struggling in the qualifying round with a “modest” 77.27m mark, Toledo produced the finest victory of his career with 81.78m (22 August).
“It has been the best moment for both Braian and me. So far, it’s the highest triumph of our lives,” explains Osorio.
After the significant victory, honours and recognition have poured into Toledo’s life, while his athletics season was wrapped with victories at the National Youth Championships (85.64m at Santa Fe on 19 September), the South American Youth Championships (85.32m at Santiago de Chile on 10 October), and a National Junior Record of 73.07m with the 800m Javelin (Mar del Plata, 4 November).
The “Círculo de Periodistas Deportivos” (a National Group of Sports Journalists) also awarded Toledo the “Olimpia de Plata” (the highest recognition given yearly to the top Argentinean athletes of each sport), in December for the second year in a row. Yet, a sense of fear is growing in some specialists, as they believe the level of responsibility on Toledo’s shoulders could put too much pressure on the youngster, since some intend to see the figure of a “saviour” in him.
For now, Osorio clears the air of speculations. “I don’t feel any pressure in the personal level, and Braian thinks the same way. We are focusing in fulfilling our goals of our training programs, and to reach each competition in the best form, so we can obtain the best results possible,” the coach explains. “The secret is to keep his arm healthy, and for that we will have to reach a great level of technical development, so his throws can be as close to perfection as possible. Then we will have to add the physical preparation, strength, and cyclical speed.”
“The aspect that worries me the most is the lack of equipment for the physical-therapy support,” Osorio adds. “That will be a great help for us. We also need a physiology lab to measure several aspects of his development. It’s hard to explain that we are able to achieve such great results in conditions that are far from ideal.
“But it all has to do with our compromise, passion, dedication, and having our goals clear. We would love to continue training in Marcos Paz, and to just move to the “Cenard” (The National High Performance Training Centre), in Buenos Aires, for some of the specific periods of training. However, if the authorities decide to build a real track, things would definitely be perfect for us. The community will benefit from it, and Braian’s example would serve as a great inspiration for the younger kids.”
While a new house, with the much-needed space for his family is being built, and his career seems to be taking off, Braian, an admirer of Jan Železný and Germán Chiaraviglio, keeps his goals simple and clear.
“For 2011 I just hope to continue to evolve, and to compete well.”
Eduardo Biscayart for the IAAF
Braian Ezequiel Toledo – Marcos Paz, Province of Buenos Aires, 8 September 1993. 1.86m, 92Kg.